The Importance of Building a Young Reader’s Background Knowledge

To be an effective reader, it is helpful to have an expansive vocabulary, strong comprehension skills and a good foundation of phonics, phonemic awareness and fluency skills. This technical language can be boiled down to the fact that to be an effective reader, a person should have a good understanding of the English language in order to understand texts. The skills listed above are taught in elementary school and are built upon throughout a person’s life. However, having background knowledge on various topics is another useful and impactful way for a person to become an effective reader, especially for young readers. 

Background knowledge, or prior knowledge, is when a person brings in any information they already know about the topic they are reading about. It also includes knowledge gained through experiences, events and memories. Lastly, background knowledge can come from any past books read or listened to, as well as movies, etc. In return, prior knowledge helps a person understand and absorb quicker than new information they are reading. It creates a framework for the reader that allows them to better comprehend the text. For young readers, those who are building their comprehension skills, background knowledge can have a huge impact on growing these skills. They are allowed to make connections with themselves and the text. These connections could be text to self, text to text, or text to world. Thus, growing their comprehension of the text, because they are understanding what they are reading and taking it to the next step by forming meaning and confidence. The more information a reader has on a topic, the more they understand and feel confident with reading. 

One way to increase your background knowledge is by reading a variety of books in different genres, listening to multiple news outlets and learning from others. But, these strategies don’t always work for increasing a child’s background knowledge. Don’t worry; there are many other ways for a young reader to build a strong bank of background knowledge. 

First, after choosing a book to read, always ask your child what they already know about the topic. This will help you determine what they need to know. Then, work with them on various activities to learn more. For example, if the book is about the ocean, spend time learning about the ocean ecosystem and the different animals. A trip to the local library or a search online will help them learn more. Also, making crafts resembling the animals and their habitat is a great way to gain information. Lastly, if an aquarium is nearby, a trip would be the perfect opportunity for learning.

Speaking of field trips, this activity works for any topic and allows children to experience the topic in a first-hand, interactive way. Along with field trips, exploring other texts (such as biographies, poems, and fiction and nonfiction books) about the topic, and completing crafts beforehand, looking at pictures, listening to music and making recipes related to the texts (when applicable) are useful for building background knowledge. Lastly, go through your chosen text with your child and highlight any vocabulary words that, as a reader, they will need to know in order to understand the text. Discuss the word’s meaning and synonyms. Also, pictures work well to comprehend vocabulary. The key thing to remember when teaching vocabulary is, once your reader knows the word’s meaning, help them learn to apply the word correctly in the text and outside of the text. Start including the words in your conversations and keep a list of new vocabulary words. 

Increasing a reader’s background knowledge doesn’t always have to be before reading a text. On a daily basis, children can learn categories of words to develop concepts, use comparisons of items and analogies. For example, they can categorize fruits, as well as finding their similarities and differences. In addition, children can read books on multiple topics, especially ones that are of interest to them and engage in multimedia activities. Parents and loved ones can encourage young readers to build their background knowledge by taking part in the activities with them and carry on conversations about what they are learning and reading. 

Reading can be a difficult task if you don’t understand what you are reading about. Having a strong background knowledge is just one of the ways that reading can become easier and help pave the way to becoming an effective reader. 


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